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Mary Mulhern

Opening up bay area to Cuba, Switzerland holds prospect of trade, jobs

I will go anywhere if it means jobs for Tampa. Even to Havana, Cuba, where I traveled in 2009 and again two weeks ago.

Tampa is celebrating our re-entry into the global economy with two new international flights. For the first time in 15 years, Tampa International Airport added a European flight with direct service to and from Zurich. And for the first time in 51 years, we have direct commercial flights between Tampa and Havana.

That Tampa was able to send the first of the recently approved charter flights to Havana shows the natural advantages of our proximity and historic ties to Cuba and our large population of Cuban-Americans. But these advantages are not enough to guarantee the flights' success, as we are competing with at least 16 other U.S. airports for a limited market of travelers.

For the last decade, Miami has been Florida's airport of necessity for all travel allowed to Cuba. We also will have to contend with other U.S. cities that can now establish flights to Cuba. While elected and business leaders in many other states and cities have built trade relationships with Cuba during the decade that agricultural exports have been allowed by U.S. policy, our port has captured less than 2 percent of the $368 million of these exports to Cuba.

My trips to Cuba in 2009 and this month were to advance the dialogue necessary for Tampa Bay to take advantage of the limited travel and trade allowed and to help position us for the inevitable expansion of trade and travel to Cuba. The Tampa City Council's letter of recognition of the historic and economic ties between Tampa and Cuba is a step toward building on this relationship.

The recently announced flights between Tampa and Zurich, Switzerland, are the result of Tampa Aviation Authority CEO Joe Lopano's aggressive marketing and incentives approach to bringing new business to our airport. This competitive strategy lured Edelweiss Airlines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, to Tampa from Orlando.

This direct flight opens up 55 new airports with direct service to Zurich. The Tampa Bay region has a larger GDP and business presence than Orlando and offers our beautiful beaches and cultural institutions. If our tourism, economic development, business and political leaders work together with the Aviation Authority, we have a possibility of increasing tourist and business travelers to Tampa — which means an exponential increase in jobs for our area.

The 11 percent of people without work in our region are not yet singing Edelweiss or dancing in the streets to Cuban salsa. Every day, I listen to the stories of people who cannot find a job, despite all of their efforts. These are our families, our neighbors, our colleagues.

Tampa Bay is experiencing one of the weakest economic recoveries in the country, and retaining and creating jobs should be our No. 1 priority.

Our new flights are great news, but we must continue to think internationally, as we look for economic development opportunities. Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Joe Lopano have shown leadership on this with a recent trade mission to Panama, where they discussed a Tampa-Panama flight that would increase our share of travel to Central and Latin America.

To compete in the 21st century global marketplace, Tampa needs to recognize its potential as an international gateway for commerce, trade and travel. Unless we act as ambassadors to our prospective business partners, we will sit by as other U.S. cities, airports and ports get the lion's share of jobs that international business and tourism can bring.

Only if our business and political leadership can pull together in a unified and competitive effort will we capture our share of the global market. We must put aside parochial and ideological differences that continue to cost us jobs.

These two new flights were earned through hard work, collaboration, leadership and the alignment of our shared goals and resources. Hundreds of people and many organizations worked for these successes.

Too often in Tampa Bay, we get stuck on our failures. We need to build on these accomplishments and realize that our work as a united community is an investment that will be returned in the most urgent of needs — jobs.

Mary Mulhern is the vice chair of the Tampa City Council.

Opening up bay area to Cuba, Switzerland holds prospect of trade, jobs 09/26/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 26, 2011 6:05pm]
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